ANNAPOLIS, JAN. 31 -- The abortion issue, still striking strong and divisive chords, was back before the Maryland General Assembly during six hours of public hearings today, with much of the testimony focusing on the narrow question of whether a teenager's parents should be notified when she seeks an abortion.

"These {notification} laws don't help; they punish," said Eleanor Smeal, president of the Fund for the Feminist Majority, addressing a joint legislative hearing on a dozen abortion bills. "Please don't make it more complicated. Make it possible for a girl to get the help she needs."

Sticking to the basic issue, meanwhile, abortion opponents argued that abortion is murder and should be sharply restricted.

"We are not talking about a tonsillectomy. We are not talking about an appendectomy. We are talking about the termination of a life," said Sen. John A. Cade (R-Anne Arundel). "It cannot be that it is a one-way street, that only the mother's interests must prevail."

But with the General Assembly still reeling from last year's abortion filibuster and its composition somewhat altered in favor of abortion rights by the November elections, the debate has shifted largely to the parental notification provisions in the abortion-rights bill being pushed by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Prince George's).

Steve Shaneman, executive director of the Family Protection Lobby, said his group opposes abortion except to save the life of the woman. "We realize in the legislature that might not be a political possibility," Shaneman said, adding that lawmakers at least should require parental notification.

Legislative leaders argue that only by compromising can abortion-rights advocates pass legislation guaranteeing that Maryland women would continue to have access to legal abortions even if the Supreme Court reverses its landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. Many other lawmakers disagree.

"If parental consent laws go into effect, no question we will force young girls to seek illegal abortions, and the only question is, how many will die of them," said Sen. F. Vernon Boozer (R-Baltimore County), sponsor of abortion-rights legislation that would not require parental notification.

"What have we gained for women if we so blatantly sacrifice young women and push them into obtaining illegal abortions?" Boozer asked.

But the sponsor of the leadership bill, Senate Majority Leader Clarence W. Blount (D-Baltimore), said compromise is the best approach.

"After our very difficult and divisive experience last year . . . I believe it is important for all of us to move forward to determine how the state can best protect . . . this very private right," he testified at the hearing of the Senate Judicial Proceedings and House Environmental Matters committees.

About three-fourths of the relatively subdued audience of about 150 were women. Outside, a handful of abortion opponents read from Bibles and carried placards. One man with a graphic picture of fetal remains got into a shouting match with a passerby.

The atmosphere was in marked contrast to last year's contentious hearings, which drew a crowd that overflowed into a courtyard. A year ago security was tight, Annapolis was bristling with state troopers and legislators were urged to avoid contact with the public by using the underground tunnels connecting the State House with their office buildings.

The eight-day Senate filibuster that followed resulted in complex compromise legislation that was swiftly killed by both houses.

Today, abortion opponents warned legislators that even if abortion-rights proponents are able to turn their apparent momentum into a law, it will surely result in a referendum.

There will be "civil strife" if an abortion-rights bill is passed, said Edward Grant, a lawyer representing Americans United for Life.

Anesthesiologist Paul Hoehner said, "The most dangerous place for Americans right now is not on the front lines of Kuwait but in the wombs of our mothers."

Abortion-rights speakers reiterated their argument that women should be able to decide for themselves whether to have an abortion but stressed that girls under 18 deserve that right as well.

"There are some circumstances where the family is so dysfunctional -- there has been rape, incest, alcoholism -- that adolescents will delay seeking diagnosis or care" or will seek a dangerous illegal abortion rather than notify their parents, said James Lieberman, a professor at the University of Maryland medical school.

Miller's bill would guarantee unrestricted access to abortion until the fetus is able to survive outside the womb. Later, abortion would be allowed to protect the life or health of the woman or if the fetus has serious deformities.

But his proposal also would require that the parents of minors be notified before an abortion unless a physician decides the girl is mature enough to give informed consent or that notification would not be in the minor's best interest.